Forum: China v the world: Is it wise to keep feeding the crocodile?

I refer to Straits Times global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal's commentary about China's handling of diplomacy amid the Covid-19 pandemic (How not to win friends and influence people in Europe, May 4).

What has happened in the past few months during the pandemic reflects the dilemma faced by many countries and corporations dealing with China, and reinforces the importance of getting the country to abide by the international system.

Increasingly, China has shown no qualms about flexing its economic muscles, whether it is towards countries or companies.

Woe to those who do not toe China's line or, as it has been said, to those that "hurt the feelings of (1.4 billion) Chinese people".

In China, unlike in other big countries, political non-interference in the judiciary and a clear separation of the political and business realms are not attributes at its current phase of development.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is so deeply entrenched in every aspect of society that China's political and socioeconomic institutions are weakly founded, given that they are ultimately subject to the party's whims.

Chinese leaders like to assure others of their country's "peaceful rise".

But what is unaddressed is just how grounded that assurance is, given the frailty of the country's national institutions and the opaque nature of its domestic politics.

With China's growing influence and capabilities, subsequent generations of Chinese leaders might not necessarily share their predecessors' restraint.

In many Western countries, companies are not afraid to stand up to or criticise the governments, as they are assured of the rule of law and the separation of powers.

But when it comes to China, given that all powers of state are, in effect, under the CCP, the commonly preferred approach has been to tread carefully, lest one is penalised via the party's wide-ranging tentacles.

The CCP, well aware of the economic attractiveness of China's market, also seemingly has no reservations about leveraging its powers.

Should China's way of doing things become the international norm, it will be a sad day for the world, which has so far thrived under a rules-based system.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: Is it wise for countries to continue to feed the crocodile, hoping that it will eat them last?

Tan Eng Tat